Cards look to bounce back against Kentucky

Louisville (8-3) has lost two of its last three games, including a 56-55 setback last Wednesday to UNLV. Now, the Cardinals are looking to bounce back with a big win over in-state rival Kentucky (11-3).

Ranked No. 3 nationally to start the season but now in serious danger of falling out of the Top 25, Rick Pitino's Cards didn't end 2008 the way they wanted with a stunning New Year's Eve upset loss to visiting UNLV. Louisville dug an early hole in that game, fought back to take the lead late but faulted at the end against the Runnin' Rebels.

"Over the past three years with the nucleus of Edgar (Sosa), Andre (McGee), T-Will, Jerry (Smith) the one thing that sticks out in every (loss) - Arizona in the Garden, Dayton at Dayton, Western (Kentucky) this year and (UNLV) - they all started with quick, early, bad jump shots that put us in the hole," Pitino said.

Louisville fell behind 10-0 against UNLV Wednesday and had problems again putting the ball in the basket. Though the Cardinals battled back in the second half and had a chance to win at the end of the game, Louisville made just 29.6 percent of its shots against the Rebels. Poor shooting has been a common theme in each of UofL's three losses this season (Louisville has hit a collective 31.3 percent from the floor in losses to WKU, Minnesota and UNLV).

"The UNLV game was a carbon-copy of the Western Kentucky game in terms of shot selection at the beginning of the game breaking the offense down and taking bad shots," Pitino said. "We're not a team capable of taking bad shots. We just don't have enough offensive firepower to do that. I'm not just talking about jump shots, we took a lot of bad runners and one-handers in the lane that weren't good."

Pitino said there's a simple solution to solve his team's shooting woes.

"We've got to run our offense and take high percentage shots," Pitino said. "Every team has a weakness and (bad shot selection) is probably ours."

When his team shoots poorly, Pitino said it makes it extremely difficult to apply full court pressure, generate turnovers and force the game's tempo. That, in turn, makes Louisville extremely vulnerable – evidenced by its three pre-Big East conference losses.

Samardo Samuels will be tested by
UK's Patrick Patterson.

"It all starts with our offense not our defense," Pitino said. "If we can get high percentage shots we can get our pressure on and maybe cause some damage to people."

Pitino also wants to see junior guard Edgar Sosa play better. Sosa has struggled on both ends of the court of late. He hasn't scored in double figures since a Dec. 6 win over Indiana State, has committed 11 turnovers in his last five games and is shooting just 20 percent from the three-point line.

"He's a talented young man but it's not going real well for him right now," Pitino said. "I've got all the confidence in the world he'll turn it around. I think Edgar is going to get the thing rolling right. The only thing I want to see him do is play better defense. I think his offense will come around. He's just got to play better defense."

While the Cardinals have experienced some struggles on offense, they've played solid defense to this point. In the loss to UNLV, the Louisville defense held the Runnin' Rebels without a field goal for nearly 10 minutes during one second half stretch – and just six field goals after the break.

Louisville, though, will be tested mightily by an improving Kentucky team that has won six straight and 11 of their last 12 games. The Wildcats are led by two dynamic offensive players – junior guard Jodie Meeks and sophomore forward Patrick Patterson. Meeks, the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer, averages a team-high 24.1 points, while Patterson adds 19.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest.

"I don't think there's anybody in the country going to guard him one-on-one," Pitino said of Patterson. "They get him the basketball in the paint where he needs it to shoot a high percentage."

"Meeks is one of the premier two guards in the country," Pitino added.

Since an early season loss to VMI, Kentucky has made considerable improvement on the court. The Wildcats rank in the Top 20 nationally in several key areas, including blocked shots (3rd, 7.8 per game), field goal percentage (10th, .512), free throw percentage (11th, .779), field goal percentage defense (16th, .367) and assists (20th, 18.8).

Still, Pitino sounded more concerned about his own team's recent performances than with Kentucky's impressive play of late.

"I know it's a big game but I'm more concerned about our basketball team playing well and getting their psyche the right way and make sure they understand why they win and why they lose," Pitino said. "I think these guys are giving great effort. We should have won that game the other night but we didn't. I'm more concerned with playing better basketball than I am with who we're playing right now."

Despite his team's latest loss to UNLV – Louisville's second loss in the past three games – Pitino said it's not time to push the panic button. Still, Pitino knows his Cards must get their act together now with Big East road games looming at South Florida and Villanova later this week.

"We're not going to panic," Pitino said. "We didn't panic last year or the year before. And we're not going to panic now because of the (early) losses."

Tip-off is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The game will be televised live on CBS. Louisville won last year's meeting 89-75 in Lexington, though the Wildcats hold a 26-13 series advantage.

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